Rafa Nadal isn't a stranger to winning trophies, but today he scored a first when he beat a line-up of sports stars, including the world number one poker player, to claim the EPT Charity Challenge title. It was Nadal's first ever competitive live game of poker and the tennis ace's competitive streak shone through to win €50,000 for his charity, The Good Hand Project.
Nadal, who signed up as a member of Team PokerStars SportStar last year, has been training in his down time away from the tennis courts and it certainly seemed to pay off today. Sure, today's tournament isn't as important as being back in the tennis number one spot or notching up an incredible 13 Grand Slam titles, but it doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself.
"I had fun. I had a great experience here playing with friends, playing for a good cause, for charity. And the next thing I know is that tomorrow morning I will be on court at 9am practicing tennis," said Nadal in the post-game press conference.
Poker is fun and a great leveller. The best player in the game, even if they're the best player in the world, isn't going to win every time. It's the beauty of poker, and as if to illustrate that it was Rafa who knocked out Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu. Negreanu twice had Rafa all-in for his tournament life, but both times the Spaniard caught his cards. It's not to say either player had done anything wrong - they hadn't - but that's just the way that the game plays sometimes.
There was no bitterness from Negreanu who was more than happy to present Nadal with the trophy after his win. Negreanu, who has more than $19.5m live tournament winnings, is the current world number one ranked poker player and reigning World Series of Poker Player of the Year.
PokerStars Blog caught up with Negreanu to find out what he thought of the tennis star's play at the table: "He came in really solid and he didn't make any mistakes. And then he knew when to make the adjustment, to play more aggressively, and he did," said Negreanu. "The bottom line is that everybody wins because it's all going to good causes."
"It was such a fun table. It was really a good atmosphere. It's really good to be around so many people who are at the top of their class, or at least were for most of their life," added Negreanu. You can find out more about what Negreanu thought here.
No-one wanted to be the first player to be knocked out, as should be expected between a group of world class competitors, but in a fast-paced tournament like this it couldn't be delayed forever. Step up, Alberto Tomba. The three-time Italian Olympic gold medallist skier had taken an early chip lead but his need for speed unseated him when Negreanu trapped him with top pair on a jack-high board. Tomba took the bait and shoved with pocket sixes.
Tomba's departure, after three hours of play, ignited the action and four players bust out within an electric 20-minute period. Football legend and three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo bust moments afterwards with K♣8♣ to Fatima Moreira de Melo's A♠T♥ at which point Rafa Nadal started an extraordinary comeback: short stack to enormous chip lead in three hands.
Nadal doubled through Negreanu once, a correct any-two-cards shove with queen-three into Negreanu's ace-nine. Another correct all-in doubled him up again, putting Negreanu up against the ropes. Nadal's knockout blow came the hand after that, which also snatched away Andriy Schevchenko's shot at victory.
Nadal raised the button with 5♦5♣, Negreanu called all-in with A♦7♦ and Shevchenko moved all-in from the big blind with 8♠8♥. Nadal made the call. After all, given the situation Shevchenko could have been shoving very wide to isolate Negreanu there. Nadal needed to catch a five. He did and won two-thirds of the chips in play in one fell swoop. Shevchenko, now low, found himself all-in against Nadal soon after. Rafa was unstoppable and batted the Ukrainian to the rail in third place. Shevchenko can hold his head up high.
That took Nadal into the heads-up against Moreira de Melo with a large - almost ten-to-one - chip lead. Moreira fought hard and fast and clawed her way back into the game, and then into pole position. The chip lead swung back and forth but eventually, more than four hours into play, Nadal got Q♥T♣ in against Moreira de Melo's T♥6♥.
Game, set and match, Rafa Nadal.
The EPT Charity Challenge
1. Rafa Nadal, Team PokerStars SportStar, €50,000
2. Fatima Moreira de Melo, Team PokerStars SportStar, €25,000
3. Andriy Shevchenko, €10,000
4. Daniel Negreanu, Team PokerStars Pro, €5,000
5. Ronaldo, €5,000
6. Alberto Tomba, €5,000
All winning are being donated to charity.
Finally, you can see some of this in hi-tech moving pictures, commonly known as a video...